The Prince

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

Book: The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli Read Free Book Online
Authors: Niccolo Machiavelli
what they want without doing harm to others; but you can with the people. Because the people’s aspirations are more honourable than those of the nobles: the nobles want to oppress the people, while the people want to be free from oppression. What’s more, a king can never be safe if the common people are hostile to him, because there are so many of them; but he can protect himself against the nobles, since there are not so many. The worst a king can expect if the people turn hostile is that they will desert him; but when the nobles turn against him, he has to fear not only desertion, but a direct attack. The nobles are smarter, they see further ahead, they always move early enough to save their skins, ingratiating themselves with whoever they think will turn out the winner. Then, of necessity, a king will always have to live with the same common people; but he can perfectly well get by without the same nobles, since he can make and unmake noblemen every day, giving and taking away honours as he likes.
    Let’s settle this question of the nobles. As I see it, they can be divided for the most part into two categories: either they behave in such a way as to tie themselves entirely to your destiny, or they don’t. Those who do tie themselves and aren’t greedy should be honoured and loved; the ones who don’t can be further divided into two groups. Maybe they are anxious men, naturally lacking in character, in which case you’d better make use of them, especially the ones with good advice to offer, since when things are going well they’ll respect you and when things are tough you needn’t fear them; but if they’re hanging back out of calculation and ambition that’s a sign they’re looking more to their own interests than to yours. These are the ones you have to watch out for and guard against as if they were already declared enemies, because, inevitably, when things start going wrong, these men will be working to bring you down.
    A man who becomes king with the support of the people, then, must keep those people on his side. This is easy enough since all they want is to be free from oppression. But the man who becomes king against the will of the majority and with the support of the wealthy nobles must make it an absolute priority to win over the affection of the common people. This will be easy if he takes them under his protection. When people are treated well by someone they thought was hostile they respond with even greater loyalty; they’ll go over to his side at once and be even more devoted than if he had taken power with their support. There are all kinds of ways a king can win the people’s affection, but since these depend on particular circumstances and one can hardly lay down rules, I’ll leave them out of our discussion. I’ll just conclude, then, that a ruler must have the people on his side; otherwise when things get tough there’ll be no way out.
    Nabis, the Spartan king, was besieged by forces from all over Greece plus a hugely successful Roman army, but he held out and defended his country and his position against the lot of them. All he had to do when danger threatened was take precautions to deal with a few internal enemies, but if he’d had the people against him, this wouldn’t have been enough. And if anyone objects to my reasoning here with that trite proverb: the man who builds his house on the people is building on mud, my answer is that this is true if it’s a private citizen doing the building and imagining the people will come to his rescue when he’s in trouble with the law or his enemies. Men like this usually find themselves being let down, as did the Gracchi brothers in Rome and Giorgio Scali in Florence. But when it’s a king building on the people, and when he’s a man of spirit who knows how to lead and doesn’t panic when things get tough, a man who takes the right precautions and whose

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